Learning English to make a better future for my children

From the moment she got into the taxi to the time she joined HRH Princess Anne, the smile did not leave Shaila’s face.  This was, in her own words, an honour and something she had never imagined would happen to her.

Shaila is learning English on TimeBank’s Talking Together project and we’d been invited, along with our CEO Helen Walker (pictured on the right above), to an event at Westminster put on by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) which would also be attended by Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, Patron of NIACE.

Shaila arrived in the UK one year ago to live with her husband who had arrived 18 months before; they have two children and live in Small Heath, Birmingham.

Arriving at New Street station I let Shaila lead the way to increase her confidence as this was the first time she was travelling without her husband.  She recognised symbols/signs and navigated us to the correct platform.  On the train Shaila told me that although she arrived in the UK a year ago, she only recently started to venture out alone to local shops and the local community centre which is where she found out about the Talking Together programme.  “Even today it was my husband who encouraged me to come by myself," she said. 

Initially Shaila had agreed to attend the event only if her husband could accompany her on the journey to London.  I asked Shaila what had made her change her mind to travel without him. She said that due to childcare her husband could not come but that this was possibly a good thing as this meant she had to do this alone; become independent.

The excitement was starting to show as Shaila talked about how her family in India would never believe that not only was she talking in English, but she was on the way to meet a real Princess!  Shaila mentioned that although she picked up some English words in India she would never say them out loud in case others laughed at her.  But here she was just a year later conversing with me in English, answering my questions and loving the progress she had made.  She mentioned how, before embarking on the Talking Together programme, she lived for her family and the community but now she was ready to live for herself and be an example to her children.

Arriving at London Euston Shaila needed to visit the rest room. I encouraged her to locate and visit the toilets by herself whilst I waited for her outside.  After slight hesitation she followed signs and located the restroom.  However, she had a little trouble putting her coins in and getting past the turnstile.  I watched Shaila for a moment to see whether she would be able to manage without assistance.  An attendant arrived and Shaila managed to explain that her coin had got stuck, he opened the gates for her and she continued.  When she came out Shaila told me how she would’ve normally waited for her husband to speak for her. 

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We made our way on the tube to Westminster, stopping to take photos in front of Big Ben and the famous red telephone box!  Shaila wanted to show her husband and children where she had been today. 

Posing happily she mentioned how she may just forward them to her family in India to show them that she isn’t sitting at home, she is out learning and seeking new opportunities.

We made our way to Central Hall Westminster where the event lasted until 3pm with a showcase of different projects in the morning and a feedback session in the afternoon. 

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 Shaila was proud to see a reservation for her at the table and waited eagerly for her chance to meet HRH Princess Anne. I asked Shaila if she understood what was being said. She told me she didn’t follow everything but could make out some words. 

Shaila was asked to join a group of volunteers from other projects to meet HRH Princess Anne in an adjoining room. When she came back she shook Helen’s hand and thanked TimeBank for giving her this opportunity.  She told us how HRH spoke to the group and then to them individually.  She was asked why she was taking part in the Talking Together programme and what she wanted to gain from it.  Shaila told HRH that she wanted to improve her confidence and then continue to learn so that she can make a better future for her children. She told us how HRH had really liked her answer and agreed with her, telling her not to be afraid and to take any opportunity that came her way and that learning was a lifelong journey.

We had planned for me to accompany Shaila on the bus back to her home address but when we reached Birmingham City Centre Shaila shook my hand and said “It’s OK, I can do this, I will catch the number 60 bus back home, I will be fine.”